PHILADELPHIA — Big Red was back in Philly, wearing unfamiliar red colors and standing victorious on the opposite sideline.
Andy Reid returned to a standing ovation Thursday night at the stadium where he led the Philadelphia Eagles to some of their greatest victories. Reid received a warm welcome from a sellout crowd at the Linc when he led the Kansas City Chiefs onto the field minutes before kickoff.
He left with a smile after the Chiefs beat the Eagles 26-16 to stay unbeaten at 3-0.
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“Yeah, it was different,” Reid said. “I was on the opposite side of the field than I normally am at. But I can’t tell you that I was caught up in that part of it. It was probably good it was a short week, probably not having time to think about the other things.”
Some of the same fans who chanted “Fire Andy” during a game in 2011 and desperately wanted him gone last year cheered Reid, showing their appreciation for the 14 mostly successful seasons he had in Philadelphia.
“Even though he didn’t bring us that Vince Lombardi Trophy, he had a great run here and he deserves to be recognized for it,” said Shawn Collins, a season ticketholder since the 1980s. “I know people expect us to boo because we have that rep, but Philly has way more class than we get credit for.”
A group tailgating in the parking lot planned an “Andy! Andy! Andy!” chant, and a few fans held signs supporting Reid. One read: “Big Red still bleeds green!”
Reid exchanged handshakes with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and coach Chip Kelly during pregame warmups, and got a hug from injured Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin.
Fittingly, Reid’s homecoming took place the night the Eagles retired Donovan McNabb’s No. 5. Reid drafted McNabb with the second overall pick in 1999, and the coach-quarterback duo turned the Eagles into one of the NFL’s elite teams for a decade.
“I love Donovan,” Reid said. “I think he’s a great person and a great football player. I was very fortunate to have a lot of guys like that. We weren’t able to do what we did there without Donovan McNabb.”
Brian Dawkins, who had his No. 20 retired by the Eagles last year, introduced McNabb to a rousing ovation from fans. Wearing a gray three-piece suit with a bright green tie and matching pocket square, McNabb waved to the crowd as he walked slowly to midfield.
“No. 5 will always love you,” McNabb told the fans. “City of Brotherly Love, thank you.”
Reid traded McNabb to Washington in 2010, but they remain close. McNabb, who officially retired this year, wanted Reid to be part of his special day.
“I wanted the person who was more than responsible for it, who took a chance on me and stuck with me for 11 years and had success with me (to be here),” McNabb said. “He played such a major part, not just on the football field but off the football field, too. Being together 11 years and the success we had together, I don’t think anyone could forget the times that we had.”
Reid led the Eagles to nine playoff appearances – seven with McNabb – six division titles, five NFC championship games and a loss in the 2005 Super Bowl. He was fired last New Year’s Eve, a day after finishing 4-12.
Reid quickly landed in Kansas City and the Chiefs already have matched their win total from last year. Kelly replaced him in Philadelphia, bringing his up-tempo offense and tons of excitement.
Typically, the placid Reid didn’t sound nostalgic about his return.
“I honestly haven’t gone there. That’s not how my mind works,” he said. “I’m pretty simple with that. They don’t care whether I think about them or don’t think about them. Matter of fact, they’d probably be happy if I was thinking about them and get caught up in the emotions as opposed to thinking about them as a good football team. It’s not about me. This isn’t a one-man game.”
Reid stays in touch with some of his former players, including LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. Both players are off to sensational starts in Kelly’s system after dismal years under Reid last season.
“Coach Reid is a father-figure to me,” Jackson said. “He’s a great guy. I respect him to the utmost, but hopefully I’ll be able to send him home with a loss.”
Reid’s gruff personality rubbed some people the wrong way in Philadelphia. Despite his record, he wasn’t real popular among fans and he was subject to intense media criticism.
His players, however, loved him.
“I think people don’t realize how good of a person that he was,” McCoy said. “I think to the media he showed a different type of person, and to the players he was something else. He was a guy that made jokes and kind of got the best out of all of the players. No matter how bad things were going for the team, he always found a way to motivate us and get us to play. We definitely miss him, but it’s a business.”
Michael Vick owes his second chance to Reid, who resurrected the star quarterback’s career after he missed two seasons while serving a prison sentence.
“He’s a great man. He’s a great friend,” Vick said. “I’m definitely going to stay in touch with him, probably for the rest of my life. Andy Reid will go down in history in my book as one of the greatest coaches of all time and one of the greatest men I’ve ever met.”